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Shaping Education Around the World
In the spring of 1899, when James Earl Russell offered a course at Teachers College titled “The Comparative Study of Education Systems,” he was so concerned no one would show up that he persuaded the College’s trustees to offer three $500 scholarships as bait. Asked by TC’s President, Nicholas Murray Butler, whether the requirements—a reading knowledge of French and German— weren’t rather stiff, Russell responded, pessimistically, that at least the class “looked well in the catalogue.”
As it turned out, no one need have worried. Thirty-four students showed up on the first day. Russell himself would become known as the father of the field of comparative education. And Teachers College formally committed to an international focus that has since helped shape and reshape education in the United States and around the world.
In a sense, the College had already embarked on that path. Both Russell and John Dewey were heavily influenced by European thinkers like Friedrich Froebel and Johann Pestalozzi. With waves of immigrant families arriving in New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century, they and others at the College had a heightened sense both of how the rest of the world might shape American society and, therefore, of how TC might work to shape the world.
It was under Russell, by then TC’s dean, that the legendary Paul Monroe created the College’s International Institute in 1923. One of four core centers established under Russell, the International Institute, which would last until 1938, brought together a star-studded cast of scholars that included Monroe; associate director William F. Russell (James’ son); Dewey; Isaac Kandel; George Counts; William Heard Kilpatrick; Will McCall; and Thomas Alexander. They traveled and studied education systems in countries ranging from China and the Soviet Union to Bulgaria, Iran, Denmark and Sweden. Kandel edited an Educational Yearbook detailing the progress of education in countries around the world, and the Institute initiated the creation of the International Education Library—collections of textbooks and other materials from other nations, which are kept today in TC’s Gottesman Libraries.
The Institute also granted scholarships for studying abroad. In 1923, TC entered into an arrangement that allowed its students to spend a semester studying at the University of Paris, and in 1926–27, the College began granting the first special diplomas for Teachers and Supervisors in Foreign Schools.
But perhaps the Institute’s most important function was to serve as both a resource and a drawing card for foreign students. By 1923, there already were more than 250 of these at TC, hailing from 42 countries. By 1927, the number had grown to 457 and by 1932, just before the Depression, to 1,200. By the time the Institute closed, it had drawn some 4,000 foreign students to TC.
A substantial number of these students came from China, including a remarkable group of educators who, inspired by what they learned at TC, would lead the modernization of China’s education system. Among them were Zhang Boling(later chair of the National Advisory Council, and president of Nankai University); Jiang Menglin (later secretary general of the Executive Yuan and Minister of Education, as well as president of Peking University) and, most famously, Tao Wen Sing, who, in his application for a Livingston Scholarship at TC in 1915, wrote to James Earl Russell that “no genuine republic can exist without a genuine public education.” After studying at TC with Dewey, Monroe and Kilpatrick, Tao returned home and founded the Morning Village Normal School in Nanjing, which trained rural teachers and functioned as the center of all political, social and economic activity in the community. He also changed his own name, which meant “academic elite professional,” first to Tao Zhixing, which means “knowing then doing” and then to Tao Xingzhi, which means “doing then knowing”—a direct reference to Dewey’s thought. The school was shut down by Nationalist troops in 1930 but reopened in 1949 and continues to this day as one of four normal schools in Nanjing. There is a Tao museum in Shanghai and a Tao Research Association, with 18 branches throughout China.
Meanwhile, Dewey, Monroe, Kilpatrick, McCall and others visited China between 1910 and 1940 as part of the Institute’s work, with Dewey alone delivering more than 200 lectures during a two-year stay. Their presence, together with the efforts of Zhang, Jiang, Tao and many others who adapted Western ideas to fit Chinese society, helped convert China from a country with an illiteracy rate of nearly 80 percent to one that would ultimately offer education on a grander scale than any other.
TC’s involvement with China stalled in the 1950s, but by then, the College had become active in other areas of the world. Much of this owed to a new program, International Education Development, led by R. Freeman Butts and yet another Russell, James, grandson of the great dean. Initially funded by the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the Ford Foundation, IED provided support for students to do projects in Africa and Latin America, and also financed the graduate studies of international students at TC.
Under IED’s aegis, the College launched its Teachers for East Africa (TEA) program in 1961 with a grant from the International Cooperation Agency, precursor to USAID. TEA recruited and trained American teachers for educational service and provided technical assistance to help increase the number of local qualified teachers trained in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, three countries that were in the process of transitioning to independence from colonial rule. Between 1961 and 1972, TEA, headed on the ground by faculty member Ralph Fields (later an associate dean of the College), provided more than 600 teachers who served two-year stints in secondary schools and teacher training colleges. The effort served as a model for the federal Peace Corps program, and TC continued to train Peace Corps recruits.
Another IED initiative was TC’s first Afghanistan project, launched in 1954 with USAID funding. The project initially focused on teacher training, but ultimately branched out to include development of a Faculty of Education for Kabul University and the creation of curricula and textbooks for all primary schools. The Project, which at its height comprised nearly 50 TC faculty members and students working with Afghan educators, ultimately produced 142 textbooks in Dari and Pashto. Zaher Shah, then Afghanistan’s king, awarded TC faculty member and Afghanistan project director William P. “Andy” Anderson a medal for distinguished service to education in 1967.
The project’s work was brought to a halt by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Much of the work was subsequently undone (and eventually the Taliban would undo even more). Yet, the project’s impact continued to be felt. In 1984, when the International Rescue Committee could find no textbooks for the Afghan refugee children in its elementary schools in Pakistan, TC’s Milbank Memorial Library searched its collections and found copies of 16 Dari texts the project had developed on language, math and Islamic studies. The Library had “contributed immeasurably to IRC’s work in behalf of children who have been uprooted by war and left without any way of preparing for a productive life,” IRC director Charles Sternberg wrote in a subsequent letter of thanks to the College.
In 2003, after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, TC launched a second Afghanistan Project, led by Barry Rosen, then TC’s executive director of external affairs and one of the 52 Americans who had been taken hostage in Iran in 1979. Again, the focus was on developing a system of teacher training, a new curriculum framework and new textbooks. The effort lasted only a few years, yet it made enduring contributions, including one book for young children about conflict resolution and another on the history of Islam as a religion of peace and respect.
During the 1980s, Japan, too, became a major (and ongoing) theater for TC abroad. Faculty members John Fanselowand and Leslie Beebe founded the College’s first and only branch campus in Suidobashi, Tokyo. For many years, the sole focus was a master’s degree program that is an extension of the College’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program in New York. The Japan TESOL program produced more than 400 graduates, but, because it was unac- credited by the Japanese government, typically attracted only teachers seeking to improve their own skills as English speakers.
In 2006, however, the campus received official accreditation, meaning that graduates now can use the credits they’ve earned to apply for higher degrees at Japanese universities. Meanwhile, the school has begun offering other programs, including a summer travel experience in Cambodia that provides students experience working for non-governmental organizations.
There is, of course, much more to the TC international story. Karl Bigelow played an important role in the creation of UNESCO in the wake of World War II. George Bereday developed a comparative education approach that combined description, interpretation, juxtaposition and comparison. Richard Wolfe, R.L. Thorndike, Elizabeth Hagen and Harold Noah helped to develop methods of measurement that have since enabled true comparisons of the education systems of different countries, including the development of international student achievement tests such as TIMSS and PISA. Still others—Howard Fehr and Bruce Vogeli in mathematics; Lambros Comitas in his anthropological studies of Caribbean cultures; Sharon Lynn Kagan in her work for UNESCO on early childhood learning in developing nations—have since set the standard in their fields.
Then, too, TC’s international work has focused not only on the work of schools and teachers, but on education writ large—that is, on factors such as students’ physical and mental health and their families and community lives. In fields such as nursing and nutrition education, TC educators such as Mary Swartz Rose, Adelaide Nutting, and Isabel Maitland Stewart helped establish curricula around the world, and current faculty such as Isobel Contento, who leads the College’s nutrition program, continue the process of international exchange.
There is one other particularly important footnote to the story. In the mid-1990s, the College combined its two flagship international programs—Comparative and International Education and International Education Development—into the new Department of International and Transcultural Studies (ITS). Today the department’s programs are among the largest of their kind in the United States. In Spring 2008, when the Comparative and International Education Society under then- president Henry Levin, TC’s William H. Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education, held its 52nd annual meeting, it chose to do so at TC. Thousands of scholars from around the world, including many TC alumni in international education, descended on West 120th Street. A field had come home. Somewhere, James Earl Russell was smiling.
(From the Spring 2009 Special International Issue of TC Today.)